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As Florida prepares to reopen, state records 47 new coronavirus deaths

Six new deaths were in the greater Tampa Bay region. Florida reported nearly 35,000 confirmed cases statewide.
A look at the empty beach and parking area parallel to Shore Boulevard S., on April 2 in Gulfport. Public beaches have remained closed for five weeks to help stop the spread of coronavirus. On Monday, they will reopen.
A look at the empty beach and parking area parallel to Shore Boulevard S., on April 2 in Gulfport. Public beaches have remained closed for five weeks to help stop the spread of coronavirus. On Monday, they will reopen. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 1, 2020|Updated May 1, 2020

As most of Florida heads into the last weekend of a shutdown, the state recorded 47 new deaths tied to the novel coronavirus Friday, including six in the Tampa Bay region.

Overall, 1,038 new cases of the virus were reported across the state, including 91 in Tampa Bay.

Statewide, 34,728 people have confirmed infections from the virus, and 1,337 people have died.

Gov. Ron DeSantis this week announced a partial reopening of the state, slated to begin Monday for all counties but Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. The three South Florida counties have formed the state’s epicenter for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Together, they account for well over half of the state’s total cases, but only about 29 percent of Florida’s population.

Under the governor’s order, restaurants and retailers will be allowed to open Monday at limited capacity. Restaurant owners in the Tampa Bay area say they are now grappling with the question of whether or not to open under the new conditions. Indoor seating will be limited to 25 percent capacity; outdoor seating has no capacity limit, but social distancing rules of separating tables by 6 feet must be followed. Groups larger than 10 people and bar seating will not be allowed.

Schools, bars, gyms and salons will remain closed.

How fast is the number of Florida COVID-19 cases growing?

Morning updates typically show low numbers for the current day.

Pinellas County on Monday will also see the reopening of beloved beaches, which have been closed for five weeks. The sheriff’s office said Friday that beachgoers should be prepared for police and deputies to be out in full force, ready to break up crowds that are too big.

Pools, which commissioners closed in the county on March 20, reopened Thursday with restrictions imposed to limit large groups.

In announcing the state’s plan for reopening, the governor touted Florida’s response to the virus, criticizing models that predicted the state could become one of the hardest-hit places in the nation.

Still, the number of cases reported by the state is likely an undercount. Some people who may have the coronavirus will never get tested, including some who may be asymptomatic. Limited testing, testing delays and delays in reporting could also lend themselves to an undercount.

Overall, less than 2 percent of the state’s total population has been tested for the virus. According to a Miami-Herald analysis published Friday, testing rates have been particularly low in rural places, including those where long-term care and correctional facilities are located.

Experts say widespread testing is a key element to a safe reopening.

During a Monday news conference with DeSantis in Tampa, Dr. Charles Lockwood, dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine, said Florida should be testing at least 150 people per every 100,000 residents each day.

Florida’s testing rates currently don’t come close to that.

On Friday, the state said 403,260 people have been tested. That’s 20,294 additional tests since Thursday or a rate of roughly 95 people per 100,000.

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DeSantis said part of the state’s first phase of reopening will include the expansion of testing.

Statewide, about 9 percent of coronavirus tests have come back positive.

What are the latest numbers on coronavirus in Tampa Bay?

Hillsborough County has been the leader for coronavirus cases in the Tampa Bay area with 1,163 cases. It has recorded 26 deaths.

Pinellas has 748 cases and 39 deaths; Polk has 500 cases and 24 deaths; Pasco has 252 cases and eight deaths; Citrus has 99 cases and 11 deaths; and Hernando has 92 cases and six deaths.

Manatee County continues to lead the area in reported deaths with 58. It has 591 total cases. At least some of those higher numbers are the result of outbreaks in some nursing homes in the county.

The state’s case tracking includes residents and visitors diagnosed in Florida as well as a small number of Floridians who were tested and isolated elsewhere.

According to the state, the newly recorded deaths in the Tampa Bay area are: two Manatee men, aged 78 and 101; a 100-year-old Hillsborough woman; a 72-year-old Pasco woman; a 75-year-old Pinellas woman; and an 84-year-old Polk man.

They may not have necessarily died Friday; Friday is the first time the state has reported their deaths publicly.

To date, 5,974 people in Florida have been hospitalized at some point due to the virus. That number could include people who have recovered or are deceased.

Roughly a third, or 444, of the fatalities from the virus have been among residents or staff of long-term care facilities.

Florida coronavirus cases by age group

Doctors say older people are at a greater risk to developing severe symptoms from COVID-19, which makes Florida especially vulnerable.

Times staff writer Langston Taylor contributed to this report.

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